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TCU 85, Baylor 81: TCU is 1-0 in Big 12 play, thanks to clutch free throws

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The Frogs almost blew a huge lead, but they held on late for the win.

Melissa Triebwasser

FORT WORTH, Texas - RJ Nembhard, Alex Robinson, and JD Miller all hit clutch free throws down the stretch to help the Frogs put Baylor away, 85-81. TCU moves to 1-0 in Big 12 play for the first time since joining the conference, and the Frogs now have a 3-game winning streak over Baylor in basketball.

Desmond Bane led all scorers with 22 points, shooting 8-11 from the floor. Bane’s shooting night came in spite of foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 8:57 remaining in the contest, and sat for the next 5:37 of game time as he watched TCU’s lead fade away.

R.J. Nembhard started in place of an injured Jaylen Fisher on Saturday, and he finished with 10 points, three assists, and two rebounds, without turning the ball over. Jamie Dixon was very pleased after the game.

“I thought he let things happen,” Dixon said, “The two threes he hit were wide open, he got the breakaway layup. So now [Nembhard] is hitting open shots and not missing bad shots.”

“I love the no turnovers too, that was a thing that was really big. He was tremendous.”

TCU jumped out to a 15-8 lead early in the first half, thanks in part to eight quick points from Bane, and some solid defense from Kevin Samuel. Over the course of the first seven minutes of the game, Samuel accounted for six rebounds and two blocks, making life incredibly difficult for Baylor in the paint.

TCU’s defensive pressure continued through the first half, and Baylor shot just 40.7% from the floor, as TCU led at the break 40-28. Just prior to halftime, freshman Kendric Davis made an incredibly heady play.

Davis stole the ball with just seconds left on the clock, and drew a foul as he attempted a half-court three at the buzzer. The resulting foul, with TCU up 38-28, got him three free throws, of which he made two.

In the second half, TCU laid it on Baylor early, running out to a 19-point lead at 50-31, with 16:37 left in the game. Desmond Bane continued his hot shooting, and he was joined by Alex Robinson and Nembhard, who helped the Frogs pour it on.

Bane’s foul trouble, along with several other guys like Samuel and Robinson, affected TCU’s depth late, allowing Baylor to climb back in the game. Playing without Jaylen Fisher and Yuat Alok, TCU went small, and at times looked overwhelmed defensively.

Meanwhile, the Bears shot 56.3% from the floor in the second half, and bench player Matthew Mayer poured in 10 of his 17 points during Baylor’s frantic comeback.

It was a slow bleed of the lead for TCU, who simply couldn’t consistently get stops, or make free throws, eventually leading to a two point margin in the final 30 seconds of play. TCU shot 8-20 from the charity stripe in the second half, something that feels like a bigger deal than it probably is.

After the game, coach Dixon noted that they shot 78.6% from the line in the first half. It’s also important to note that TCU and Baylor scored the same amount of points from the free throw line.

When pressed, though, the Frogs returned to first half form, where they shot 78.6% from the line, as Nembhard made two free throws to push TCU’s lead to 82-78. A three point play from Baylor’s Makai Mason cut TCU’s lead to just one, 82-81, before Alex Robinson and JD Miller would make 3-4 from the line to seal the Frogs’ win. Robinson spoke about his clutch late free throws after the game.

“I feel like, at the end of the game, it’s just a little more focus. I felt like I needed to focus a little bit more when I was up there.” Robinson said, “We just had to lock down. We probably weren’t as focused as we should have been, but we got it done.”

It’s not often that a team shoots 56.6% from the floor (TCU) and sees a lead disappear, but the Frogs held on to get the win Saturday in Fort Worth. That’s a big deal.

“We’re here to try and win a championship.” Dixon said afterward. “You’ve gotta win your home games, start with that.”

TCU heads to Kansas next Wednesday to face the now-No. 5 Jayhawks. That will change on Monday, though, as Kansas suffered a 77-60 defeat at the hands of Iowa State on Saturday afternoon.